Growing up, one of my favorite ways to spend time was listening to my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather tell my brother and me what it was like to run their ranch in western Colorado during the Great Depression. Those stories-;including the time my great-grandfather had to choose between medication for himself and medication for his horse (he chose the horse)-;told me more than all the books I’ve ever read on that era.
My great-grandfather did not prioritize the horse over himself because he was a passionate believer in animal welfare in 1931. He chose to treat the horse because on a Dust Bowl ranch, a sick horse put him and the rest of my ancestors far closer to the poorhouse than a sick man did. The vivid image of my great-grandfather-;then a young man-;sacrificing his own health for the good of the ranch taught me more than any statistic or classroom lesson about the 1930s ever could.
Unfortunately, first-hand accounts of that era are disappearing. If you want to learn more about what life was like in that era for people like my great-grandparents, you have to read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
(Of course, many of us read it in high school, but forced reading as an adolescent and reading to gain a different perspective on the world as an adult are two very different things.)
The Grapes of Wrath does not attempt to give an overarching view of the political, social, and economic consequences of the entire Great Depression. Instead, it homes in beautifully on the story of the Joad family as they move from Oklahoma to California in an attempt to find a better life.
In other words, the author tells one of American history’s biggest stories by homing in on a much smaller story.
Any company trying to create compelling content could learn from Steinbeck. Too often businesses want to tell their entire value proposition in one post. The result is content that is boring and often irrelevant. For example, a 500-word blog post trying to communicate the entire value proposition of your company will inevitably rely on broad talking points and mundane data. On the other hand, a 500-word post homing in on a specific, compelling, humanized part of your company’s story stands a far greater chance of reaching your target market and achieving the “stickiness” every marketer seeks.
The same is true for video content, social media posts, or any other method your company is trying to use reach its audience.
You are never going to effectively communicate your company’s entire story and value proposition in one piece of collateral, just as John Steinbeck (or anyone else) was never going to tell the all-encompassing story of the Great Depression in just one book. However, like Steinbeck, you can create something that resonates with your audience by focusing on the specific parts of your company’s story that are most compelling and the most human.
Outside of novels published 80 years ago, what does that mean for modern businesses?
It means that your two-minute video shouldn’t try to open and close the argument for why someone should choose your health insurance company by bombarding the audience with statistics and data that try and tell the story of what your company has meant to thousands of customers. Instead, the story should focus on one family who were saved from financial ruin by choosing you as their health insurance provider.
There is a reason why we still read Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou. They were important Americans telling important stories-;but they were also content creators who knew how to tell big stories by focusing on small subjects.
Your company should do the same.